MILWAUKEE — The job market for college graduates has been unsteady, to say the least, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports it is improving for graduates with bachelor's degrees. For graduates ages 20-24, the unemployment rate dropped from 17.6% in 2020 to 9.4% as of this past July.

Still, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2021 graduate Walker White remembers how much he worried about securing employment post-graduation.

“There’s nothing but worry, but you have to control those thoughts and understand what you can control,” he said.

Walker considers himself lucky that hen secured an internship back in 2018 with the company he now works for.  

“I ultimately got furloughed, but was able to come back and help revive the company again post-pandemic,” he said.

He knows many of his former classmates have a different story to tell.

“Many of them had financial struggles and had to move back in with their parents,” he said. “A lot of them lost the jobs they were so passionate about.”

Internship opportunities and job offers dramatically declined for students during the pandemic, leading to few—if any—job offers for graduating seniors.  

“We saw a lot of companies that normally hire 20, 30, 40 interns and didn’t know what to do and canceled a lot of their internships,” said Jean Salzer, UWM’s Career Planning and Resource Director. “Students who would normally have 2, 3, 4 job offers and have companies challenging each other to offer the most were down to maybe one offer, or no offers.”

In stark contrast, she said the number of students requesting appointments for job and internship searches skyrocketed. 

“It tripled,” she said.  “We went from 84 appointments in 2019 to 230 in 2020.”

Rebekah Pare saw the pandemic’s affects on the job market for graduates first-hand at UW-Madison. She is the Executive Director of Success Works at the College of Letters and Science.

She said one-on-one career advising rose 25% this past year, compare the the year prior.

“Once vaccines were released in January, employment opportunities really expanded again for college students,” she said. “In the month of march, we had 45% more job opportunities than we had the year before.”

As a new academic year is now underway, Pare and Salzer both agree it is difficult to say whether this most recent spike in COVID-19 cases will affect the job market again for future graduates.

“I’d like to say it’s not going to have an effect, but it probably will,” Salzer said.

“Last year and this year, it’s going to be hard for these students to get off the ground and take flight in certain careers they’re interested in,” Pare said.

Certain career paths have faired worse than others, particularly those without a specialty. That includes history, psychology and sociology majors.

Having gone through it himself, White advises incoming seniors to network as much as possible.

“Reach out to as many employers as you can because the more shots you take, the more likely you’ll end up with full-time employment,” he said. “Get involved in student clubs that pertain to your field, no matter what field you’re in.”

The Wisconsin Technical College System provided data that paints a much different picture. 

In 2020, 91% of tech college graduates were employed within six months. 75% were employed in their field of training.

The data shows a slight drop from 2019 numbers, which are 93% and 81% respectively. Still, securing employment post-graduation has not been difficult, a WTCS spokesperson told Spectrum News.

This is primarily due to the career fields tech college graduates are trained in. To name a few—nursing, construction, plumbing, IT, and engineering. These jobs are considered essential during the pandemic and in some cases, experienced an even higher demand.